Category Archives: Uncategorised

Reflections on Scoil na gCláirseach

I was in Kilkenny the other week, for the fourteenth annual Scoil na gCláirseach – summer school of early Irish harp. During the week, I explored some of the issues I have been working on so far this year, namely the new setup for the medieval Gaelic harps, and the issues of using fingertips instead of long nails for playing the 18th century Irish harp repertory.

Continue reading Reflections on Scoil na gCláirseach

Punks & hippies

Ealasaid and I were having a discussion about punks & hippies – which one are you do you think? When I started wondering about punks & hippies having Oxford or Cambridge University backgrounds. I think it is fairly likely that a significant number both of punks and of hippies have Oxbridge backgrounds, but my question, was, which is more? Are hippies more likely to have attended one or the other, or punks? I don’t know but it is something to ponder!

Downhill harp poem

Two years ago to the week, I had my HHSI Student Downhill harp here in preparation for using it for a concert – my Carolan, Connellan and Lyons programme which I played outside in the Botanic Garden. While the harp was here I carved the lettering on the forepillar, and gilded the carved letters.

This week the harp is again at my house, as I am going to use it for my Lament for the Union concert next week. And so how could I resist continuing my very protracted programme of decorating the instrument?

As well as some subtle painted highlights, today I carved the lettering for the poem on the soundbox. I traced my photograph of Cormick O’Kelly’s original 18th century poem, but I changed the lettering to be relevant to me and to this particular instrument. I like the idea of changing the poem – like how a modern harpsichord maker puts a replica Ruckers or Blanchard rose in the soundboard of their replica harpsichord, but replaces the old master’s initials with their own.

I was originally planning to gild this lettering but now that it is finished, because the letters are significantly smaller than the gilded forepillar ones, and because there are so many more of them, I decided I liked them natural wood. The poem is quite hard to read with all the ligatures and the crowded capital letters with few word spaces. I think it gives a subtle lift to the whole instrument.

I love it when ancient things have inscriptions on them, it is a kind of literature, and it is also a kind of direct communiaction between the thing and ourselves, more direct than we usually get with archaeological objects where the comminication has to be inferred or reconstructed. I am very pleased to have captured a little of that atmosphere and ambience on my harp now, even though it is not actually an ancient harp or even an ancient text – nonetheless it is like the harp is speaking directly to us.

I was also struck by the final 2 words of the poem: “call me”, like the monster in The Forest.

Fíor mo mholadh ar Mhac Dhomhnaill – medieval bardic poetry performance

This is the final set at the Ceòl Rígh Innse Gall concert in the museum at Armadale, Isle of Skye, last month: medieval Gaelic ‘bardic’ poetry, sung with accompaniment played on the replica of the medieval Scottish ‘Queen Mary’ harp.

Fíor mo mholadh    ar Mhac Dhomnaill
Cur la gceanglaim    cur gach comhlainn
True my praising of MacDonald, hero I am tied to, hero of every fight

Croidhe leómhain   láimh nár tugadh
Guaire Gaoidheal   aoinfhear Uladh
Lion’s heart, hand that did not reproach, Guaire of the Gael, sole champion of Ulster

Aoinfhear Uladh   táth na bpobal
Rosg le rugadh   cosg na cgogadh
Champion of Ulster, welder of people, eye which caused the ceasing of warfare

Grian na nGaoidheal   gnúis í Cholla
Fa bhruach Banna   luath a longa
Sun of the Gael, face of the sons of Coll, around the Bann his galleys were swift

Cuiléan confaidh   choisgeas foghla
Croide connla    bile Banbha
Furious hound, stopping raiders, steadfast heart, tree of Ireland

Tír ‘na teannail   deirg ‘na dheaghaidh
A bheart bunaidh   teacht go Teamhair
The land is a blazing beacon behind, his ancestral duty to go to Tara

Measgadh Midhe   onchú Íle
Fréimh na féile   tréan gach tíre
The confuser of Meath, the wolf of Islay, the root of bounty, the defender of each land

Níor éar aoinfhear   no dáimh doiligh
Craobh fhial oinigh    ó fhiadh n-Oiligh
Refusing no-one, no pleading poets, generous honourable branch from the land of Oileach

Níor fhás uime    acht ríoghna is ríogha
Fuighle fíora   fíor mo mholadh
No-one raised with him but kings and queens. True these judgements; true my praising

Poet: anonymous MacMhuirich c.1500
Singer: Gillebrìde MacMillan
harpist: Simon Chadwick

After the music finishes we hear Godfrey, Lord MacDonald, speaking with the ‘vote of thanks’.

Two-bell ringing

Sometimes at St Salvators tower we are short-handed, and we have been gradually working our way though The Chris Higgins Guide To Three-Bell Ringing (ed. Ian Chandler, Kirby Manor Press 2003). I have been enjoying the elegant simplicity of the music as well as the physical challenge of placing and striking the bell well.

Today, being the first day of semester at the University of St Andrews, and also the morning of the clocks changing, there were only two of us. There are two two-bell methods in the book, and we tried them both – Cambridge being a little more pleasant, with more intellectual challenge as well as less physical. But then I fancied something different and so invented on the spot some stedman-style methods which I see now loking though my notes also share some charateristics of the ultimate 3-bell method, Shipping Forecast.

The idea is to lie, point and lie. You can lie for 2 or 3 blows, and you can arrange the blocks of 2 and 3 lying adjacent or alternating.

x=xx=x=xx= or x=xx==x=xx== or x=xx==x==xx=

We rang the three and the five, the University’s two medieval bells, whose minor 3rd interval was to me the characteristic sound of the tower before the augmentation in 2010.

I wonder if it would be possible to make a connection with the binary music of Robert ap Huw and the other late medieval / early modern Welsh secular instrumentalists? Was this most fundamental art of change ringing used before changes on higher numbers were developed?

In medieval Welsh notation we might write for the three methods above
00100.11011 and 001000.110111 and 001000.111011

Finally we discussed a little what to call this type of ringing. The book unimaginatively describes these methods using just the word “two”. We can do better than that. The convention for odd numbers of bells is to count the number of simultaneous changes possible, so on 3 is singles, 5 is doubles, 7 is triples, and so on. On even numbers, Latin descriptors are used: 4 is minimus, 6 is minor, 8 is major, &c. I proposed “micromus” but I don’t know if that is too silly!